Digital effects, or computer-generated imagery (CGI), allow Hollywood to do the impossible: alter and manipulate reality. Computer programs project new environments onto green screens and transform humans wearing CGI suits into otherworldly beings, giving movies that magical feeling. But before digital effects are added?
As you might imagine, “unfinished” scenes don’t quite capture the feeling we’ve come to expect from films. Still, you won’t believe just how lifeless, strange, and sometimes hilarious some of your favorite movies scenes look before Hollywood magic goes to work…
1. Guardians of the Galaxy: Fantastical characters filled the 2014 action flick when all was edited and digitized, but on set, a tall guy with a literal Groot helmet on played the Flora colossus. And Rocket Raccoon? Just a crouching, angry-looking Sean Gunn.
2. Jurassic World: Guardians wasn’t Chris Pratt’s only foray into the world of CGI. In the 2015 follow-up to the beloved Jurassic Park franchise, Owen—played by Chris Pratt—quite literally had his back to the wall as velociraptors surrounded him in a tense, terrifying scene. But before digital effects?
Before special effects brought the raptors to life, Pratt faced-off with the on-set equivalent of three poodles in a trench coat: four guys slightly crouched in raptor helmets. It doesn’t exactly scream tense and terrifying.
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: As Hermione walked with Harry through the Hogwarts library in the sixth film of the eight-film franchise, her returned books floated back into place magically. On set…?
Director David Yates didn’t rely on a well-placed Wingardium Leviosa spell to place those books back on the shelves; instead, the muggles on set donned green gloves and grabbed the books out of her hands. No magic here.
4. District 9: With just a $30 million budget, director and CGI-guru Neill Blomkamp delivered beautiful digital effects in the sci-fi flick by utilizing bright lights and keeping the alien prawns relatively simple (by CGI standards).
5. Superman Returns: “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a guy in a Superman costume suspended from wires in a green room with people lying beneath him and gusting him with portable fans!” (That line didn’t make it into the movie).
6. The Desolation of Smaug: When there weren’t any Screen Actors Guild-registered dragons available to play Smaug in the sequel to The Hobbit, director Peter Jackson required some digital effects to get the job done. On set, it looked a bit goofy.
See, Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t just lend his voice to Smaug. He studied lizards at a London Zoo so that he could accurately represent how a dragon might move, too! Motion capture cameras allowed him to play Smaug.
7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Andy Serkis is the leading motion capture performer in Hollywood, and he showed why with his award-nominated performance as Caesar in Rise. So, this photo features a man pretending to be an ape sitting on a horse.
8. Lord of the Rings: Serkis is most well known for his role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, however. For some reason, a man in a skin-tight, bright blue suit is about as creepy as a shell of a man corrupted by an evil artifact.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: Davy Jones terrified viewers as captain of The Flying Dutchman, but as the film’s Animation Director, Hal Hickel said, “we don’t want audience members to think about this…Davy’s 100 percent computer generated.”
While cameras were rolling, The Flying Dutchman’s crew proved they understood fashion in a way the barnacle-covered pirates in the digitized, completed version of the film didn’t. The grey CGI suits were spooky.
10. The Avengers: In the 2012 blockbuster, The Hulk revealed a secret to Captain America: he’s always angry. In his motion-capture suit, Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo was angry, too. “I was…miserable,” he said. “A trained actor reduced to the state of a Chinese checkerboard.”
11. The Avengers: Ruffalo didn’t get any reprieve from his frustration during fight scenes, either, though his Chinese checkerboard did get upgraded—or downgraded?—with the addition of an incredibly green bulk.
12. The Twilight Saga: New Moon: Because petting an actual wolf might’ve cost actress Kristen Stewart her hand, director Christ Weitz had her gently stroke Taylor Lautner’s head, instead.
13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Digital-effects guru Pablo Helman said the film’s director wanted “people to look at the characters and say, ‘How do they do this? Is this is a real character, is this makeup?'” None of the above. Just four guys with big backpacks.
14. Alice in Wonderland: When Alice strolled through the fauna of Wonderland in the 2010 remake of a classic, she passed brilliant mushrooms with lumbering, fat baby giants at her side. It didn’t look like that when cameras were rolling, though.
Turns out, Alice was just about the only real part of Wonderland. Producers and directors utilized people in CGI suits—and other CGI’d props like nerf balls—to ensure that actress Mia Wasikowska’s interactions with her surroundings felt authentic.
15. Beauty and the Beast: Before digital effects, The Beast, played by Dan Stevens, looked like a little kid in a superhero Halloween costume with stitched-in muscles while wearing his CGI suit. Still, that suit required some muscle to wear—it weighed 40 pounds!
16. Deadpool: Five actors played Colossus: one on set, one in the studio, a face model, a dialogue performer, and then a final facial performance actor. Did the on-set actor know he wasn’t just playing a giant in grey pajamas?
17. The Life of Pi: To put 17-year-old actor Suraj Sharma on a 20-foot lifeboat with a live tiger would’ve been dangerous at best and a bloodbath at worst, so the 2012’s films creators resorted to some less threatening digital effects.
While a real tiger played the part in certain scenes, a haphazardly sewn together stuffed doll with Sharpie eyes brilliantly performed the up-close-and-personal moments. The doll was not nominated for an Oscar, a true travesty.
Before digital effects, so many of these films look downright ridiculous. Actors must really struggle to deliver believable performances in those environments!
Share these photos of movies before digital effects with your movie-loving friends below!